Tayja Jones-Banks Deserves Better: Why Fatphobia Can’t Be Fixed After the Fact
Tayja Jones-Banks’ prom pictures recently went viral after several people mocked and shamed her. One cyberbully, Michael Anderson, said, “I literally just inboxed most females that commented positively to this picture!!! Real friends don’t lie to friends … This girl looks a mess and you females will say ‘yesssss slay girl’ knowing good and well she totally embarrassed herself for the whole world to see … Smfh.”
This disgusting-ass response to Tayja’s beautiful picture was posted on multiple news outlets that focused on the vitriol hurled at this young,plus-size, dark-skinned black teen.
In response to the negativity and violence, Tayja posted, “Should of never went … Should of never posted any pics.”
This sparked outrage as the focus shifting to tackling and defeating cyberbullying. The Shade Room, ThaCelebritea, and celebrities like Kelly Rowland came to Tayja’s defense, saying she looked beautiful, especially in the face of hatred.
It was amazing to see the outreach and support for Tayja, especially after such a traumatizing-ass experience. The specific anti-Black fatphobia she navigates day to day was displayed on a global platform. But I want to challenge the idea that everyone can run to Tayja’s defense now, rather than helping cultivate a world and social environment that recognizes anti-Black fatphobia as violence.
Gossip/news sites like The Shade Room constantly serve as a site for commenters to drag fat Black women, especially dark-skinned Black women, all the time. The dragging Gabourey Sidibe receives on a daily basis for showing up to events in her best dressed, full face slay is constant. No one stands for Gabby on public platforms. No one stands for dark-skinned fat Black women and femmes ever, actually.
Now that Tayja has experienced such a visible and seemingly relatable tragedy, the conversation has shifted from this very specific violence of anti-Black fatphobia to a general conversation around cyberbullying. When a young, dark-skinned fat black girl dresses up to slay, to celebrate one of the best nights of her life, and is considered “embarrassing herself” — but when dark-skinned fat Black girls who don’t “try” or don’t “dress up” are considered inherently unworthy — that is a deeper level of violence that needs to be addressed.
Thousands of comments flooded in about Tayja’s wellbeing, telling her that “she’s beautiful the way she is if she’s happy” and “people need to be more accepting, let her live!” But I can’t help giving pause and discomfort to the idea that Tayja’s everyday experiences can easily be solved by one day of compliments.
It’s so easy for thinner, lighter, non-Black and/or masculine folks to become voyeurs to Tayja’s current trauma and see that one-time snapshot of her life. But when it comes to making political power shifts and intentionally reshaping humanity, everyone is asleep when it comes to dark-skinned fat Black femmes and women.
Anti-Black fatphobia does not exist in a vacuum. Michael Anderson’s commentary is not a one-time event. The evil he spewed is something that speaks to the larger politics of hating dark-skinned fat Black women and girls. Michael was upset that Tayja thought she had the right to exist, the right to think she’s cute and the right to celebrate herself. The way we’ve seen darker-skinned fat black women portrayed in the media is specific and intentional. There is a deliberate agenda to destroy and demean girls like Tayja and it would be remiss of anyone to think that there’s only one man like Michael out there.
Beauty standards are constructed around white supremacist patriarchal ideals of race, gender, ability, class, size and sexuality. So body positivity, safety, protection and celebration of girls like Tayja must be deliberate in our everyday personal political work.
That means making room for Tayja before her pictures go viral on the internet. That means challenging our ideas of acceptability and beauty in our minds and in our desire politics. That means we must amplify the voices of girls like Tayja in our personal lives and make sure we listen and hold space for them unconditionally.
I cannot sit here and praise people who see Tayja’s current tragedy and trauma as an opportunity to promote kindness, when most of those same people don’t give a fuck about Tayja when she’s the girl on your block, the girl in your classroom or the girl sitting next to you on the bus. We must challenge ourselves to love and support Tayja when it’s not on a public platform. We must remember that fatphobia is rooted in anti-Blackness and white supremacist violence. We must understand that colorism plays into the oppression experienced by dark-skinned fat Black girls and femmes. We can only cultivate space for Tayja by addressing these significant forms of violence. The celebration of Tayja’s beauty, worth and humanity should be an everyday reality — not a one-time response to a particular incident.